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Transforming Education

The Playful University and the Joy of Learning

Driven by an ethos of delivering education through innovation and by adapting creative approaches, we’ve been working on a range of projects under the banner of ‘The Playful University’, solving problems and overcoming obstacles with joy, engagement and a sense of fun.

It all started with a project from the College of Medicine and Health that looked at gamification in medicine and tested the impact of gamifying different resources. The project motivated Dr Maarten Koeners, a workshop participant, to collaborate on a paper: Koeners MP, Francis J (2020). The physiology of play: potential relevance for higher education. International Journal of Play, 9(1), 143-159.

In the spirit of a Compassionate University Community, Dr Koeners has now established the Playful University Club to support students and colleagues to integrate play and playfulness in teaching, learning and their daily lives. It’s all about co-creating and promoting a culture that can foster play.

Dr Koeners then collaborated with Olya Petrakova on the ‘Kinder Exeter’ festival to promote ‘Compassion Through Play’ and demonstrate that regular acts of collaborative play and kindness have long term well-being benefits. The weeklong festival offered both online and in-person experiences to foster kindness towards ourselves, each other and the environment.

Aided by volunteers, Dr Koeners is leading the Festival of Compassion which will feature roundtable discussions on the Compassionate Campus and Playful University, music performances, mental health first aid sessions and workshops on storytelling, exercise and relaxation.

Dr Holly Henderson, formerly of the University of Exeter Business school, has also run a Lego Serious Play (LSP) initiative, the methodology behind which is an innovative process designed to enhance innovation and business performance. Dr Henderson’s team, including Dr Martin Robson, Politics and Dr Caitlin Kight, Academic Development, have embedded the technique by giving more than a dozen LSP facilitator training. Their expertise has also been used to lead sessions on diverse topics including career planning, anti-racism, mental health, strategic planning, and academic writing.

The project continues to gather momentum with additional funding opportunities expanding its remit and growing the team to achieve the objective of running 150 LSP sessions, reaching 4,000 students and supporting 400 staff.

LSP has also been vital in helping students to build a sense of community while learning remotely, and our innovative use of LEGO in teaching has caught the eye of THE, who have invited the project leads to write a short guide on adapting the LEGO Serious Play method for use in higher education environments.

As we return to campus, the team will continue to push the boundaries of what LEGO can achieve for university students. That includes LSP workshops on resilience, ethics, storytelling, and conservation, and finding new ways to build knowledge and understanding with LEGO.